In my previous posts, I shared post-panda/penguin era link acquisition strategies, un-common and powerful link building techniques, and advanced link building strategies. But, sometimes the best way to learn is by understanding what NOT to do, and especially in the post Google Penguin era. With this post, I would like to spread the word about links to avoid while executing your link building campaign, and mention some alternatives.
Manipulative linking strategies leave footprints that can be detected and rooted out by humans and algorithms. While some manipulative link building strategies may still work, the reality is that they put your reputation at risk and are likely to result in penalties down the road. Avoid these strategies like the plague:
1. Purchased Links
Purchased links can and do still work, but there are several reasons you should never buy a link anyway.
- Purchased links are usually over-optimized, reside in the sidebar, and offer little value. Even if you are “smarter” and do a better job of making your link look “natural,” your link will reside on the same site as hundreds of unnatural links and will lose value as a result.
- There is no guarantee that a purchased link will stay on the site. In many cases, you need to keep paying a monthly fee in order for the links to stay in place. This drains your funds and leads to bad ROI over time. Site owners are free to ransom you for the link however they wish.
- A purchased link that looks completely natural requires more overall time and money to build than a genuinely natural link. Owners of sites that will never get penalized by the search engines have very high-quality standards, and will demand those same standards from any content you offer them, whether you pay for inclusion or not. The lower their standards get, the more obvious the footprint becomes, until eventually you will lose all the value when their site gets penalized.
Alternative: Offer value to site owners. Rather than throwing money at them, use your resources to provide a service for them. Use this as an opportunity to build a relationship that results in links.
It may be possible to boost rankings by purchasing domains and redirecting them toward yours, or to “hide” manipulative links by pointing them to domains that redirect to yours. There are several reasons this is a bad idea:
- A URL that redirects to a different one will never accumulate links of its own, so this is the most unnatural link imaginable. Google can clearly see when a redirect was put in place and it would be extremely obvious to them that any links accumulated afterward were completely unnatural. This is a terrible way to “hide” manipulation.
- Google’s caches clearly identify what the purpose of the old domain was, as well as what its link graph looked like. There is nothing natural about two completely disconnected link graphs on the same site that discuss completely different topics.
Alternative: Use redirects strategically to grow your brand. Hire bloggers in the same niche and move their blogs onto your own site. Redirect their original blog to the new one, and strategically link the blogs together for reasons that are helpful to users. Make it obvious to Google that the redirect from the old site to the new one is actually useful to fans of the old blog.
3. Link Exchanges
A link exchange is when you trade links with another site in order to build links. There is one big misconception I’d like to clear up about this before explaining why it’s a bad idea:
Myth: Link exchanges are bad because the links cancel each other out and you lose all the “link juice” you got from the exchange.
This is completely untrue. It is completely natural and it makes perfect sense for your site to link out as well as get links. Links away from your site do not “subtract” value, as long as they make sense and don’t lead to spam. Instead, link exchanges are a bad idea because:
- People who exchange links just to get links are also involved in other manipulative techniques, so these links pass little value and may eventually bring penalties.
- There is no rhyme or reason to the links that come in to a site that exchanges links, instead of building them naturally.
- A link from a site that only gets links from exchanges is useless, because the site leaves a very clear footprint when it does so.
Alternative: Work on collaborative projects with reputable site owners. Yes, these will result in shared links between the two sites, but only as a side effect of the project. Big sites link to one another all the time, but they don’t leave artificial profiles because the links aren’t artificial and there are standards in place.
4. Overzealous or Mediocre Guest Posting
You should already know that you shouldn’t do “article marketing,” in which the same article or an algorithmically modified version of it is posted on hundreds of sites. But the fact of the matter is that this is just as true for sub-par guest posts, and this is why:
- Google already has quality detection algorithms (panda) and they are getting better. A low-quality guest post on a high-quality site is rare, so low-quality guest posts aren’t going to offer a great deal of value. The vast majority of them will come from sites that have been or will be hit by Panda updates, losing value over time.
- It is true that you can get some value out of low-quality guest posts, but for the amount of work involved the benefits just aren’t there. You can spend two hours on an article and get it posted to a site where most pages have an authority around 50, or spend two hours writing 12 articles that will pick up a page authority of one or two. The impact just isn’t worth the effort in the second case.
Alternative: The obvious alternative is to spend more time on your guest posts and get them on high-quality sites, as already mentioned. Another alternative is to invest those short 10-minute sessions on conversations with people in social media and email that lead to relationships and ultimately links.
5. Comments, Social Media Profiles, Forum Profiles, etc.
I’m lumping these together because they’re all basically the same thing. Notice I didn’t use the word “spam” either. I’ve done this deliberately, because links from these sites are effectively useless for direct search engine benefit. There are ways to leverage these for massive benefits (both in and out of SEO) but this is not because of link building.
- Most links from comments, social networks, and forums are no-followed and, as a result, pass no benefit.
- Google can clearly isolate comments from contextual links even in cases where links are followed. Google may count no-followed links from social networks, but has no interest in single links (especially from isolated profiles with no influence). Google is only interested in viral behavior. Google has even less interest in forums.
Alternative: Use comments, social media, and forums to connect with influential people who have sites of their own. Additionally, focus on building connections with people in your niche, not on “web marketing” forums etc (unless that’s where you’re trying to build reputation).
6. Interlinked Domains
Finally, another tactic that some spammers use is to set up several sites and link them together. This may help with rankings in some cases, but it’s a bad idea because:
- Sites hosted on the same account are often on the same server, or similar servers, so that it is obvious they are all owned by the same entity. Getting around this means paying much more for hosting.
- It’s very difficult to build a large network of sites that adhere to any sort of quality standard. The variance of all kinds of criteria on these sites will not match the variance of natural link networks, and the same goes for the network of links themselves.
- Assuming you are able to build a network large enough to pass any benefit and that looks completely natural, the amount of work you will end up doing will be far more than for a single site. Why write a high-quality article for a peripheral site you own when you could write it for your money site, or for a link from a high-quality site with age and reputation?
Alternative: Focus all of your efforts on one site so that you can build up domain authority faster.
Spam and low-quality tactics don’t just present an ethical dilemma, they almost always offer a lower ROI than more involved strategies. The effort that goes into manipulative links provides very little value, and the risks are much higher that your site will ultimately be penalized or demoted as a result. Focus on efforts that offer long-term benefits and more impact for the work you put in.
Image credit: Link Building – courtesy © alain wacquier – Fotolia.com